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Voters officially approve new Minnechaug project

Date: 10/26/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM -- After overwhelming approval by voters at the Special Town Meetings that took place on Oct. 5, the only thing left for the residents of Hampden and Wilbraham to do in regards to the new high school was vote to exempt from the provisions of Proposition 2 1/2 the amount required to pay for each town's share of the bond.

The response wasn't quite as positive at the polls; at the town meetings, the yeas beat the nays by margins of 10 to one. In Wilbraham, the result of the ballot was 2,790 for, 1,384 against; in Hampden, 800 for, 559 against.

Voter turnout equaled 33 percent in Hampden and 41 percent in Wilbraham.

"It was an encouraging show of support from the school district and a victory for the students of Hampden and Wilbraham," School Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea said.

Jim Ross, president of Minnechaug Pride, an organization started to get the facts about the new school project out to voters, said the group achieved its goal of helping get the message out.

"We showed a strong solidarity [by approving the ballot question]," Ross commented. "We're seeing both towns working together. Having a positive vote made it overwhelming enough."

Ross currently has three children in the district's schools -- one will be a sophomore when the new Minnechaug Regional High School opens, and the other will spend her entire high school career in the new building.

O'Shea explained that the next step in the new school project is the development of construction documents, which will finalize the design based on the Ashland High School model and include the selection of furniture, fixtures and equipment. The project's architect, the Mount Vernon Group, the School Building Committee and high school staff will work together on these decisions.

O'Shea said the aim is to have the project go out to bid in the first few months of 2010.

"When people begin to see the progress in the construction, the excitement will remain [around this project]," O'Shea said. "It will especially be exciting for students, who will be able to look out the window and see the progress."

Going forward, the superintendent plans to keep both communities informed of the deadlines and decisions made regarding the new Minnechaug.

"We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work," O'Shea stated. "We have an exciting time ahead of us we're influencing the educational future of the students of Hampden and Wilbraham."